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Marijuana less harmful than other drugs

The Biden administration on late Friday released the unredacted exchange between federal authorities recommending marijuana be rescheduled.

“After assessing all available preclinical, clinical and epidemiological data, FDA recommends that marijuana be rescheduled from Schedule I into Schedule III of the CSA,” the Department of Health and Human Services wrote to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Schedule III drugs are classified as having a potential for abuse less than the drugs or other substances in (Schedules) I and II, a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence that may result from their use,” according to the recommendation.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse “concurs with this recommendation,” the letter added.

The U.S. cannabis industry is eager for federal reform, which could come in the way of tax relief should the DEA act on the HHS rescheduling recommendation – and should the DEA’s suggested change become law.

But until now, the HHS’ exact justifications for their recommendation to reschedule have not been publicly known.

The documents summarizing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation that marijuana be moved to Schedule 3 of the Controlled Substances Act – including the widely reported Aug. 29 letter from HHS Assistant Secretary Rachel Levine to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram – were released Friday to attorney Matt Zorn.

Zorn, who posted the 252 pages of agency communications online, obtained the documents after filing a federal lawsuit urging government agencies to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.

Before Zorn posted the unredacted documents, federal officials had not responded to efforts to obtain them, including FOIA requests that MJBizDaily filed with the DEA and HHS.

Public health officials compared marijuana to other scheduled drugs as well as alcohol, according to the letter.

What they found was a version of marijuana legalization advocates’ core claim: Cannabis is less harmful than other more available drugs.

“The risks to the public health posed by marijuana are lower compared to other drugs of abuse (e.g., heroin, oxycodone, cocaine), based on an evaluation of various epidemiological databases for emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, unintentional exposures, and most importantly, for overdose deaths,” the recommendation noted.

Information regarding marijuana’s medical value was made available to the Food and Drug Administration by U.S. states with legal cannabis programs.

It’s still not clear when the DEA will act on the HHS recommendation – or exactly what the agency will suggest.

The review is ongoing, Milgram recently told lawmakers.

Legal and political observers say the DEA might lack the legal authority to defy health regulators on matters of medicine and science.

Chris Roberts can be reached at

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